NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza – For a second consecutive day, Palestinians fired a barrage of mortar shells here and in other Jewish Gaza communities this afternoon, prompting the Israeli Defense Forces to respond by striking a group of terrorists transporting mortars and rocket launchers.

The Palestinian escalation comes in spite of an attempt today by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to salvage a cease-fire he signed with Israel in February.

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis fired a mortar shell at Neve Dekalim, a large Gaza Jewish community. An Israeli drone immediately identified the launching site, and operators dispatched an IDF helicopter that fired three missiles at a truck carrying mortars and at a nearby missile launcher.

Witnesses said three Hamas terrorists fled as the missiles struck. No one was hurt. An army spokeswoman said the aim of the strike was only to destroy the weapons.

Palestinians quickly launched eight more mortars at several Jewish communities in the Gush Katif block, the largest series of Jewish towns slated for evacuation this summer as part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan.

Most mortars landed in empty fields. One hit an army outpost, lightly injuring a soldier. Another mortar failed to explode. Residents were told to take shelter as the IDF sent a bomb squad to detonate the charge.

A group of 120 Americans, here on a solidarity mission to protest the Gaza evacuation, were caught in today’s mortar bombardment. They were told by an officer to take shelter in a nearby synagogue.

“It sounded like fireworks,” said a participant from Brooklyn, N.Y. “I can’t imagine having to go through this every day. You learn in the news about mortars landing in Gush Katif all the time. We take for granted that these are really deadly objects. It’s a miracle there aren’t more casualties.”

It was the second consecutive day Jewish communities in Gaza were targeted. Yesterday, two workers were killed, one Palestinian and one Chinese, and six other Palestinian workers were injured when two Qassam rockets slammed into a greenhouse in the Gush Katif block.

The continued provocations come in spite of a visit to Gaza today by Abbas to persuade Hamas leaders to temper the missile and mortar firings. Abbas met with top Hamas officials regarding the violence and upcoming Palestinian elections, but sources say the terror group rejected Abbas’ appeals for calm.

Hamas has been launching regular rocket and mortar attacks against the Jewish Gaza communities. Analysts have warned the attacks will escalate as the Gaza withdrawal draws closer so Hamas can claim it has driven Israel from the area. Some worry after the Gaza evacuation Hamas will use the territory gained to stage rocket attacks deeper inside Israel.

Since February, the Palestinians have smuggled multiple rockets and five anti-aircraft missile batteries into Rafah from across the Egypt-Gaza border, reports Israel’s Center for Special Studies.

Hamas also recently started manufacturing a new rocket, the Nasser 3, capable of reaching further than the currently used Qassam 2 rockets, which, unlike the Nasser, have improvised fuses and warheads that don’t always explode on impact.

“The Nasser 3 brings things to a whole new level of warfare,” a security source previously told WorldNetDaily. “Hamas knows they can’t get inside Israel because of the security fence, and they are setting the stages for a major shift in tactics from suicide bombings to firing effective rockets from Palestinian areas deep inside Israel.”

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